Jerry Cole is a nice guy who genuinely likes helping people. Some who know him say he's too nice, but he shakes his head. They don't get it.
Cole grew up with loving parents who taught him to help others. The lesson stuck and at 52, his entire life is dedicated to service.
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He is a part-time firefighter with the Carpentersville Fire Department, he runs his own landscaping business where he just donated mulch to an elementary school for a garden project and he volunteers with several youth groups, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and really, anywhere he can pitch in.
Cole's days start at 4:30 a.m. when he wakes up to do paperwork for Yardworks Etcetera, Inc., a business he started in 1986 with a push mower and a truck.
He works all day on any one of the 65 weekly accounts his business has grown to and sometimes goes straight to the fire station after work. He said if he's at the fire station he usually gets to sleep in -- until 5:30 a.m. And that's after a night of unsettled sleep when he must remain alert and ready for calls.
"The first priority is to be available to the public, Cole said. "Any emergency, whether it's a cut finger or a heart attack.
And Cole doesn't mind his hectic schedule, or waking up in the middle of the night on a call. Being busy doesn't get to him because he likes what he does, having the chance to help.
"If I can put a smile on somebody's face, I've done my job, Cole said. "As corny as that sounds.
Cole has worked with the Carpentersville Fire Department for almost 13 years. Whereas most firefighters join in their early 20s, Cole waited until his late 30s. He wanted to get his own business up and running before he turned to fighting fires something he had wanted to do since he was a child.
"I used to go back and burn my little Tonka trucks, Cole said. "I would hook up the hose and put the fire out.
After seven months of training to be a firefighter and five months for Emergency Medical Technician certification, Cole was offered a spot in the Carpentersville Fire Department. He was the third oldest in his class.
Retirement age for firefighters is 50 years old because their life expectancy is so much shorter. It's hard, physical, dangerous work. Not every call is a fire, but when it is, they go with 50 pounds of gear into smoke-filled buildings that could be as hot as 1,000 degrees.
Cole got started late, but he's hoping to stick around for a while longer. And he has no plans to cut down on his volunteer work anytime soon.
"I love to give back, Cole said. "It puts a smile on my face. Nobody understands, but it's this incredible feeling within.
Cole was raised Catholic and now practices a more nondenominational form of Christianity. Working with youth groups allows him to turn his life experiences into learning experiences for teenagers.
Working within a community of people who are less advantaged, helping build houses or feed people, gives Cole a better perspective on his own life.
"When I go out there, it really gives me a reality check, Cole said. "How good we have it here.
Cole knows he is blessed. And with that knowledge, he'll continue moving through each day with the strength of a faith that drives him. He'll keep helping people. And he'll keep liking it secure in the joy it brings his own life.